City Guide: Lausanne © Régis Colombo

City Guide: Lausanne

Switzerland's hidden gem, Lausanne, offers historical beauty alongside unique activities

Lausanne could have easily become a sleepy lakeside town, forfeiting all of the excitement to its not-so-distant neighbour, Geneva. Though it is not a global superpower or financial centre, Lausanne has carved out a niche for itself that is recognizable all around the world. Possessing the seemingly paradoxical characteristics of being both richly historical and extremely relevant to younger generations, the capital of the Vaud canton shouldn't be overlooked by anyone hoping to experience the best of Switzerland.

Perhaps the most distinctive feature of Lausanne is its status as location of the International Olympic Committee. Since 1894, the committee has met in Lausanne to plan and organize the Olympic Games. The popularity and importance of the games led to the creation of the Olympic Museum in 1993 – one of Lausanne's main tourist attractions, the museum attracts about 200,000 visitors per year. With exhibits on the origins, competitions and athletes of the Games, the museum is the largest archive of the Olympic Games in the world, and is a must-see for athletics fans or anyone travelling to Lausanne.

Summertime on Lake Geneva © Renato Granieri

Aside from its Olympic legacy, Lausanne has a rich historical background that can be seen from the city's unique layout and appearance. Lausanne is located on the southern side of the Swiss Plateau, and consequently has a generally sloping geography. In addition, a gorge carved by the river Flon cuts through the city, creating another dimension of level difference. This has produced multiple levels of elevation within the city, with many bridges crossing the gorge to connect neighbourhoods. This unusual topography gives the city of Lausanne its own distinctive character – both history and nature have built the city and remain intertwined in its existence.

For those seeking more of the medieval beauty Switzerland has to offer, the Cité, or Old Town, is the place to go. The Cathedral of Notre Dame of Lausanne is just one of the many treasures to be seen here. Work began on the structure in 1165, and today it is the largest Gothic cathedral in Switzerland and one of the best preserved. The church is used as a venue for magnificent organ concerts.

Lausanne Cathedrale © Renato Granieri

Sightseeing is a surefire way of working up an appetite, and luckily, one of Lausanne's most sought-after hotels is also home to a gourmet restaurant that shouldn't be missed. Anne-Sophie Pic's restaurant at Hotel Beau-Rivage Palace is an innovative French venue that boasts two Michelin stars, 18 Gault&Millau points, and gorgeous views of the lake. Anne-Sophie Pic is the only woman in France to have obtained three Michelin stars, at her first restaurant in Valence. The top choice for luxury dining in Lausanne, the Anne-Sophie Pic is the place to take a break from exploring the medieval town.

Lausanne's summer landscape, Lake Geneva and the Alps © Urs Achermann

Though it is steeped in history, Lausanne is the centre of some very energetic nightlife. The home of two universities, the city has a wide array of entertainment options, along with a lively arts community. Young people tend to gather in the Flon district, which is home to trendy restaurants and discos.

Apart from the two extremes of historical sightseeing and clubbing, Lausanne offers something for every kind of traveller – including an array of art museums, street markets and every kind of water sport. Located in the wine-growing region, Lausanne is a short distance from the Lavaux Vineyards.

Lausanne in winter

A private tour is the best way to enjoy the 14 kilometres of terraced vineyard above Lake Geneva. Through Swiss Riviera Tours, guests experience one of the most beautiful landscapes in west Switzerland in style – four hours of exclusivity with a knowledgeable guide, wine tasting and gourmet food. Tours are custom-planned for every group, and provide the highest quality experience of the vineyards.